8 Best Chess Openings for White


Chess is still an unsolved game, as there are more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe. This means we still don’t possess the single source of ultimate truth to know about the objectively very best chess moves and openings. However, the game has been around for centuries, being played and studied exhaustively, and with the help of chess engines nowadays, we have established wisdom about the fundamentals of the opening principles. With the help of such principles, we can know what makes one opening much better than another.

In this article, I’ll cover the 8 best chess openings for white, which not only follow the long-established opening principles and goals but have also withstood the test of time and the scrutiny of the top players. This list of the best openings will also help us to see a better picture of what common qualities they share despite being quite distinct from each other.

1. Ruy Lopez

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5

1. Ruy lopez

Ruy Lopez is the most played opening of all time, and it is no wonder that this opening, which was developed by a Spanish priest named Ruy López de Segura in the 16th century, has been a major part of the opening repertoire of so many players of all levels: All of its starting moves are very natural and serve a clear purpose that follows the most fundamental opening goals and principles:

1.e4 claims central control, 1..e5 2.Nf3 develops a piece towards the center and attacks e5 2…Nc6, 3.Bb5 develops another piece, preparing for a king’s safety by castling kingside, potentially pinning black’s knight, and putting indirect pressure on e5. In Ruy Lopez, white easily gets into a healthy position after only a couple of natural moves. Each of these moves has such simplicity in its logic that it can easily be embraced by less experienced players. As far as I can tell, along with the Italian Game opening, Ruy Lopez is one of the best openings for players who want to gain valuable insight on the fundamental aspects of the game, as it utilizes all the elementary principles of the opening phase.

On the other hand, the opening usually leads to a long, positional maneuvering game, which creates room for rich strategic ideas accompanied by tactical possibilities. This inexhaustible playroom has been one of the major reasons that the opening has been played by masters and world-class players, including almost all world chess champions. Some of the lines in the opening are even named after famous players like Paul Morphy or World Champions like Wilhelm Steinitz and Bobby Fischer due to their contributions to the opening theory. In short, it is impossible today to find any elite-level tournament without a game in Ruy Lopez, and it is likely to continue this way for a long time.

Example game

2. Italian Game

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4

2. Italian Game

In contrast to Ruy Lopez, in the Italian game, white develops the bishop only one square shorter on the diagonal (c4 instead of b5). This small alteration already creates a significant difference in the character of the game, shifting its nature towards a more tactical one. The bishop on c4 is placed on the most energetic square, where it can actively put pressure on black’s most tender spot, namely the f7-pawn. This opening allows white to castle quickly and get ready for an early attack on the enemy king, sometimes using pawn sacrifices to open the files or for initiative.

The beauty of the Italian Game Opening lies in the fact that it carries the potential to turn into an extremely sharp and concrete opening, such as the Fried Liver Attack in the Two Knights Defense, but also into a highly positional and calm game, like Giuoco Piano, where white is focused on building a strategic advantage. For beginners, this makes the opening a great practicing tool for developing their understanding in both tactical and strategic aspects of the game.

As the second most popular 1.e4 opening, the Italian Game is still an important part of any top player’s opening repertoire. Most notable practitioners are the former World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana.

Example game

3. Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2

Catalan Opening

The Catalan Opening is one of the favorite openings of the current World Chess Champion Ding Liren. But he is not the only one. Former World Champions like Mikhail Botvinnik and Jose Raul Capablanca relied on the Catalan Opening many times in their matches, which means the opening has a 100-year history at the very top level of chess and this tells a lot about the quality of the opening. It is not hard to see what these legendary players found appealing in the opening: it allows them to combine the best of a classical opening like the Queen’s Pawn Opening and a hypermodern opening like the Réti Opening, resulting in closed or semi-closed positions where they can apply their strategic skills, at which they excelled.

The opening can be reached by different move orders, and therefore it might be confusing at the start to grasp all the transition possibilities. For masters, this complex aspect of the opening is perceived as an advantage as it allows them to avoid certain openings through subtle alterations of move orders. Both 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 and 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 are common ways to play the system.

Example game

4. Queen’s Gambit

1.d4 d5 2.c4

Queens Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is undoubtedly the best alternative to 1.e4 and offers a vast variety of opening systems. With 1.d4, white occupies the central square on the queenside of the board, so a big part of their strategic plans usually revolve around applying pressure on this side of the board, for example, the thematic Minority Attack. This does not mean that the Queen’s Gambit is mainly a positional opening without any kingside attack. On the contrary, the opening has enormous potential to turn into a razor-sharp and dynamic game. In contrast to openings from King’s Pawn Opening, where white can launch an early attack on the black king, white often builds an attack progressively in Queen’s Gambit.

Taking into account my own experience playing this opening for many years, Queen’s Gambit is great for players who primarily prefer a power play and feel at home in highly dynamic, complex positions. Many legendary tacticians and attackers like Garry Kasparov or Alexander Alekhine, who excelled in power play, used the Queen’s Gambit as their major opening weapon.

Example game

5. English Opening


5.English Opening

The English Opening shares similarities with Queen’s Pawn Openings in its nature, but it is known for its relatively more positional and calm character. The opening allows white to fight for the center directly with 1.c4, but at the same time, it is a highly flexible opening as it can transpose into a wide range of openings. The transpositional nature of the opening can be a very beneficial strategic element for white. For example, if white wants to play a Queen’s Pawn Opening type of position but wishes to avoid openings like Nimzo-Indian or Grunfeld Defense, the English Opening is a great solution.

On the other hand, the positional complexity can be overwhelming for beginners. The English Opening can have the potential to evolve into many different pawn structures, and the players should ideally be ready to handle various types of positions and technical tasks. For this reason, I would classify this opening as more suited for experienced players. Former World Champions renowned for their positional chess prowess, such as Mikhail Botvinnik, Anatoly Karpov, and Magnus Carlsen, have frequently employed the English Opening in their games.

Example game

6. Reti Opening

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4

6. Reti Opening

The Reti opening made its debut at the master level of play, once Richard Réti used this opening to defeat the former World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca. Since then, it has been used by many top players, such as Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov.

From my own standpoint, the biggest strength of the Reti opening lies in the fact that it avoids heavy theory and lets the player focus on strategic ideas, while still being a very solid and flexible opening. As a product of the hypermodern school of chess, it aims to control the center with minor pieces, for example by fianchettoing the bishop on the kingside, thus minimizing the chance of creating weaknesses in the pawn structure. The starting moves of the opening are interchangeable. The most standard is to play 1.Nf3 followed by 2.c4. White usually delays playing d4 and develops on the kingside with g3 and Bg2, but it is also possible to transpose into Catalan and Queen’s Gambit by playing d4 at some point.

Example game

7. King’s Indian Attack

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2

7.Kings Indian Attack

My first impression of King’s Indian Attack was that it looked too good to be true. It is very easy to learn, and white gets a rock-solid kingside with a fianchetto bishop, yet it has the luxury to launch a kingside attack after closing the center with e5. After a thorough examination, the only major drawback I was able to find is that black gets a free hand in occupying the center. But this is mainly temporary, so this setup has much more pros than cons. An example line of starting moves for KIA would be: 5.d3 0-0 6.Nbd2 c5 7.e4 5.d3 0-0 6.Nbd2 c5 7.e4, with the idea of pushing e5 and gaining space to bring move pieces into the kingside.

King’s Indian Attack has been utilized by many world champions, from Bobby Fischer to Vladimir Kramnik, making it a valuable addition to one’s opening arsenal.

Example game

8. London Opening

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3

8. London Opening

Speaking from my own background, this opening has always been one of the most frustrating opening systems for me to face as black. The reasons are clear: the London system deprives black of an aggressive counterattacking opportunity, and the solid structure of white is hard to break. This makes the opening a tough nut to crack for players who lean towards dynamic and tactical games with imbalances in the positions. All white needs to do is reach the setup with a bishop on f4 and a triangle formation of the pawns on c3, d4, and e3, which can be done in various move orders. The most straightforward starting line is 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3, without including 2.Nf3 as it is not an essential part of the setup.

The opening is one of Magnus Carlsen’s favorite openings for white, for rapid and blitz time controls in particular. However, in my personal view, the London Opening is not the best opening for beginners for various reasons. While the ease of learning the starting moves can yield positive results for a player in the short term, playing the very same structure over and over is likely to impede a player’s overall development in various aspects of the game, primarily due to a lack of experience in diverse positions.

Example game


All of these openings listed in this article are excellent choices for any serious player, and it is advisable to select one or two that align with your playing style. One common characteristic among them is their focus on either directly or indirectly contesting the center, prioritizing king safety, and providing avenues for the harmonious development of pieces into natural squares. For beginners, the Ruy Lopez and Italian Game are highly recommended. More complex systems such as the Queen’s Gambit, London System, Reti Opening, and English Opening are better suited for intermediate players, while the Catalan Opening can be considered an intermediate-advanced level opening.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
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